One of the oldest jokes in the construction book is that architects should live in the buildings they design. Well, Glenn Rescalvo of Handel Architects is putting his money where his mouth—or in this case, his design—is. He’s the very first buyer in his new Potrero Avenue building Rowan.
Rescalvo also conceived the super swanky Pacific up on Webster Street. But that project began with the shell of an existing building; Rowan is brand new from the ground up, and its highly sensitive position on the cusp between the Mission and Potrero Hill (overlooking Franklin Square no less) and its unmissable nine-story profile makes it a much more audacious statement.
There’s no mystery why Rescalvo went all-in with his new creation. He can barely contain himself when he talks about the building. A suppressed grin accompanied his every third word when Curbed stopped by to tour some of the completed homes.
"It’s abstract. It’s creative. It’s one of a kind," says Rescalvo. The original design for the 70-unit structure (which opened sales last week) "could have been in any city in the world," he adds. His building, he’s confident, makes a statement about the neighborhood and San Francisco.
It is indeed impossible not to take note of Rowan’s giant, zig-zagging concrete exoskeleton. Behind it, row after row of wire banister Juliet balconies and window lattices create a series of overlapping grids. (The name Rowan was selected in part because, when written in caps, the letters imitate these lines.)
Rescalvo likens being on the inside of all of that mesh to being inside the operating cage of a giant crane, like those loading cargo in the bay. It’s also his bid to show off what most buildings take pains to conceal: the structure.
Developer Arden Hearing, managing director at Trumark Urban (also Rescalvo’s partner on the Pacific) points up the more practical benefit of the building’s exterior bones: There’s no need for interior columns to take up space in the relatively small units (a single bedroom is less than 700 square feet). It also allows for both floor-to-ceiling and wall-to-wall windows.
(Indeed, the relative efficiency of the units, with their pocket doors to save room and exposed concrete ceilings to increase height—the only drop ceiling in the units we toured were in the bathrooms—would have been a fine addition for our Micro Week coverage.)
The floor plan for a Rowan unit looks like almost entirely open space, only barely compartmentalized. The actual homes themselves appear a bit tighter once you’re inside. The (literal) centerpiece is the "smart wall," a single partition right down the middle, containing almost all of the mechanics of the condo’s lighting, heating, appliances etc.
As advertised, Rowan is indeed singular, creative, and in tune with the (as Hearing puts it) "inspiringly gritty" vibe of nearby buildings. It’s also weird. And completely startling to suddenly come up on when walking down 16th Street. We might call it an acquired taste: less odd the more time you spend with it, but never really normal.
But Rescalvo argues that’s the point. "San Francisco is looking for better design," he says. "Everything’s always been a bit reserved here, but that’s changing. I like that people will look at this building."
The worst thing that could happen to either neighborhood, from the architect and developer’s point of view, would be a big boring building that nobody would notice. Buildings crave constant scrutiny to remain relevant; so look at Rowan any way you want, just as long as you don’t look away.